I have been out several times targeting unsuccessfully the quest for Halibut in the sound and straights. In the process, I’ve spent alot of money, purchased and prepared alot of gear, and covered alot of miles on a couple of boats, and even spun a prop one year.
I was thrilled with Jason Takayoshi invited me to join him for a one day turn and burn as WDFW had announced on June 2nd a one day extension opener in Neah Bay only for the sought after flat fish of the ocean. I jumped to the opportunity to join him on his 26′ Worldcat. While many of you might not think 26′ is that big, it is a serious blue water capable boat with twin screw OX66 Yamaha 150’s on the back end, full Simrad electronics package, custom Whodaat aluminum T-top with custom spray shields, and sitting on a custom aluminum I-beam 10,000# tandem axle trailer with electric over hydraulic brakes.
What does it take to pull this beast? Jason is on his 4th tow rig, but he’s got it dialed in with the Ram dually diesel pusher 3500. Custom exhaust and tuner module which can re-program the air flow and computer to help maximize the efficiency and power.
Our plan was to rendevous in Hansville that evening once Phillip and Jason got off work. Joe Hong would also be joining us for the trip as unexpectedly a 4th seat opened up as Jason’s other buddies weren’t able to make it aboard. Joe had resevered a spot for Sekiu charters, but they would only venture out to Swiftsure bank. While I can’t attest to how things went for the charter I can probably say that we did much better than that boat and crew. Good thing he was able to get a full refund and join Jason’s boat.
Joe was in charge of bringing the steaks and salad for dinner. He didn’t get an early start out of Marysville and there was a 2 hour ferry delay out of Edmonds. He decided to drive around, it’d delay the trip but just in time to quickly marinate the rib eyes and fire up the Weber grill. There’s nothing like the taste of a charcoal prepared ribeye steak. We gave a toast of fireballs pre trip hoping for calm seas, and safety for our crew and willing fish.
The plan was to wake at 01:30 and be pushed off by 2 am. We did pretty good assembling the troops and was out the door by 02:04. After the 3 hour 10 minute drive to Neah we waited in the procession of other sport fisherman to launch the boat. It was good time to dress and prepare for the 2+ hour run West.
So far outside Waadah the winds werent too bad until we past Tattoosh and then saw some choppy water but not too many whitecaps. The forecast was 2-4′ wind waves on 5′ swells at 7 seconds with 15-25 mph winds. It was supposed to lay down to 5-15 mph winds with 1-2′ wind waves later in the afternoon.
Joe and I took advantage of the comfy EZ rider bean bags and tried to sleep some more knowing that it’d been a painful day ahead. After the 2+ hour run we made it to 72 Square, the bottom is featureless and appears to be smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. However when looking at the charts it was near the edge of the Nitniat Canyon. 72 Sq. come up from this canyon and sits around 450-600′ of water. Apparently, the younger halibut go here to eat and grow. I had heard this place referred to as the chicken farm. A term for the cookie cutter halibuts from 20-30#. While a ‘chicken’ might be looked down from a seasoned halibut fisherman, to me it was still a prized fish as my quest had come up with nothing more than a flounder.
Once we got to the drop zone Jason put down a pipe jig and was instanly on a fish. I scrambled over to see what the commotion was, he pulled what would be one of many released halibut. My eyes were in amazement. I’d never seen a halibut in its home turf, and was thrilled at the prospects. I quickly assembled my pipe jig and sent it down with what seemed like 30-45 seconds of time to hit bottom.
I reeled up a few cranks and was bouncing that jig on the bottom, within seconds my rod tapped and I was hooked up! After a tussle I brought another similarly sized fish, and to my amazement Jason ordered it back to the water. My first halibut and it would be released?!!? I sure hope he was right with his instruction.
Phil and Joe would quickly do the same and dropped down and all of us would have the same results. Singles, doubles, triples, even Joe would have multiple two halibut on his tandem set up! We’d even hit ling cod with this and we’re talking large deep water ling cod.
After a few hours of fishing we caught 7 nice ling cod, almost a limit for all as we filtered through through the halibut in hopes of getting that larger fish. We decided to pull up and headed back towards the coastline of Neah. Umatilla reef would be our destination to load up on rockfish for our final salute goodbye. Jason was beat tired from limited sleep and having to drive the tow rig and navigate his boat. I urged him to crash out and glad he took advantage of that on the way to Umatilla. I took over the helm and drove the big cat for an hour while our capt. deserved a much needed pow nap.
Umatilla reef and what would come is a frenzy of rockfish on the light tackle. I commented that it’d be great to get our 8th ling keeper and sure enough a drop down with Phils Point Wilson dart pulled up that final fish! As a bonus fish we hooked a massive Sablefish, also known as Black cod, or butter fish in that deep water beyond 72 Square. This is my all time favorite ocean eating fish. The meat is so rich and oily, complex and fatty. The Japanese and Koreans have favored this fish for the flavor and oil rich omega 3 fish oils. Most the black cod you see in the market are in the 4-6# size range. This cod was a beast, probably 25-30#.
There was a strong possibility that our Sablefish could have been a state record contender that has held up since 1994 out of Westport. I just wish we had the common sense to weigh it when we had a chance and time while back at Big Salmon. We’ll never know and even so, it doesn’t matter much now. The fishing was a success and our rewards in life are achieved in quality time on the water amongst friends.
All our bodies rattled, muscles aching, but spirits and moods elated from the amazing fishing we just experienced. We drove back under the quickly departing sun and got back to Hansville around midnight. Phil and I would was down and scrub the boat while Joe and Jason went to work with the knives sorting and bagging the meat. We finally wrapped up around 01:30, almost a full 24-hours from when we started. I showered and crashed while everyone left for home.
I kept the halibut and black cod heads, look at all that collar and neck meat of the Sablefish, perfect for a spicy Korean soup. I’ve also got my portion of the black cod fillets marinating with a Kazusake Rice Lee’s preparation. I can’t wait for dinner!!!
This will go down as one of those epic fishing trips that I’ll never forget. It was amazing in all regards and hats off to our awesome Capt. and crew/deck hands for making it a safe and memorable outing. Everyone did a great job and it was truly about teamwork to pull this turn and burn trip off with too many hiccups. While en route, we also saw humpback whales, and a really nice bait being chased to the surface by feeder Coho. It was really amazing to witness the slashing of these 4-5# coho smacking the herring as it frantically tried to swim away.
I always say a successful trip is when nobody gets hurt, and you come back with all your gear. The fish are just a bonus! While Joe did experience some motion sickness and I lost a pipe jig, all in all still an amazing time. One of my line counter Quantum reels broke and was dropped off with my dealer to be sent into the manufacturer under warranty repair. Also, somehow my Sage TCX tip section also broke having not even used it. The saltwater is a harsh environment and things get lost, break, and or fail. We have to prepared to adjust to the conditions and adapt.
We boated over 40 halibut in the process of narrowing down to the 4 largests. My next purchase might have to be an electric reel such as Joe’s Daiwa tanacom 750. He had a tandem set up and it contributed to 6-7 double hook ups of halibut and ling cod. I am convinced of its capability and merits. We logged 112 miles according to the tracking software, this doesn’t include the drifts as it only logs speeds higher than 3.5 mph.
Hoping our salmon season and trip back to Neah next month will be a good trip. Can’t wait to get back and do it again, hopefully with a few king salmon at the end of our lines.